Home > Gaming > Game Review – Risk of Rain (2013)

Game Review – Risk of Rain (2013)

risk_of_rainOn first glance, Risk of Rain seems an exercise in minimalism, with its tiny sprites, ambiguous plot, and almost episodic gameplay (since players can beat the game in about 30 minutes). In those ways, it is, but other parts of the game showcase great breadth and depth, and the balance between the minimal and maximal has rendered this one of my most favored games of recent months. The salespitch – Risk of Rain is a “roguelite”, combining platformer/run and gun gameplay with heavy RPG elements, permadeath, and a degree of macrogame, since you can unlock additional items and playstyles by completing challenges during your runs. It lacks the extreme difficulty of its ancestors, and I personally was able to score my first victory after about 8 hours of gameplay where such still eludes me in something like Stone Soup.

The soundtrack in particular almost became installment #2 in the “Anatomy of VGM” series, although it took a while before I could appreciate the effort that went into it. Chris Christodoulou provides a “modern” soundtrack that contrasts with the pixelated graphics and is marked by its own contrasts between rock-based songwriting and electronic soundscapes. Shrewd listeners will note a few leitmotifs and progressions holding everything together, although as previously mentioned the actual breadth of these compositions is pretty impressive. Sometimes it makes for strange effects when combined with actual gameplay; imagine being assaulted by hordes of monsters while the serene “Chanson d’Automne​.​.” or upbeat “25.3°N 91.7°E” plays just under the threshold of your consciousness because hordes, and then escaping or obliterating your enemies only to realize the soundtrack dissonance…

To be honest, while I find the gameplay formula compelling, I think this game’s greatest achievements are actually in its storytelling and worldbuilding. The key here is that the game explicitly tells you very little about its main plot. Instead, you get most of your information from collecting items and monster logs, although much of it is simply flavor text about the various items discarded from the UES Contact Light. This leaves just enough ambiguity that you almost have to make up your own headcanon to keep from going insane in real life; for my purposes it suffices to say that most of the characters here are preoccupied with simply surviving the harsh environments at all costs, even if it leaves them battered, scarred, and mutated beyond all recognition (see the cover art).

In short, definitely an experience, and even if you aren’t going to play the game for whatever reason, you should check out the soundtrack, which is more than strong enough to stand on its own.


  1. 2015/04/02 at 05:55

    “you get most of your information from collecting items and monster logs,” – This form of storytelling, which makes you collect multiple sources is becoming more common. I think it turns video games into a great storytelling medium. Indie developers have been capitalizing on that.

    A friend gifted me this game. I think I didn’t redeem in time. It looked really good from the outside.

    • 2015/04/02 at 13:21

      I also got this game as a gift, but if I’d known how much I’d get out of it, I would’ve purchased it in a flash. I’ll probably have to content myself with keeping up with the devs’ future projects and purchasing those.

      I guess a good name for this sort of narrative would be “environmental storytelling”, although it might have a formal name in game design circles that’s more descriptive or succinct.

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